Staying ahead of the curve & saving time while doing it.

That long task list also includes tasks at home -- where do you consume information?

That long task list also includes tasks at home — where do you consume information?

One of the things we suffer with as entrepreneurs is information juggling — followed quickly by information overload. We know it’s necessary to stay ahead of the curve in your field, but even just keeping up can be difficult from time to time. It doesn’t matter if you are in academia, industry, or still in training, staying up-to-date on the latest research in your discipline is necessary. Even though it seems like just one more thing to add to the long list of things you have to do, it’s well worth the effort. Staying on top of industry and field news can help you spot opportunities that give you a competitive edge no matter what stage of your career. Secondly, and importantly for juniors in the field, keeping up with new developments can give you the inside knowledge of leading experts, which can help you develop your own expertise, and respect from others in your field. Staying current can be tricky and time-consuming, so here are a few tips:

Journals & magazines
Journal articles are a primary source for recent and archived papers in all disciplines. There are myriad publishing platforms in which your colleagues might publish, which makes the task of keeping up momentous at best. The good news is that you don’t have to check every single journal and read the table of contents every time one is published. Many journals can send you an email or RSS feed with a selection of the most recent research. For example, Science has e-newsletters that provide weekly updates from the fields that interest you the most, which saves you time from having to log in and browse needlessly.

This feature is a great way to keep abreast of the research that has recently come out. Pick your favourite journals, these should also be the most useful, and sign up for the RSS or emails to be sent to you. Once that email arrives, scan the table of contents quickly to see if there is anything of interest, then delete the email. [Time saved: About 2 minutes per journal]

However, there are other methods that can give you some “pre-publishing” news insight as to what is going on in your field so you stay current even before a project is published.

Face-to-face networking

Whether informal or formal, face to face networking is a boon to your field -- and even a bit of fun.

Whether informal or formal, face to face networking is a boon to your field — and even a bit of fun.

There are a number of traditional sources that are very useful, including mentors, conferences, face-to-face networking, and professional organization meetings. Be sure to tap your mentors, such as professors, more experienced classmates, and  technicians in your field, as they have a wealth of information and insider-knowledge that can really benefit you in the long run. They can help you find the best organizations to join, which in turn can get you hooked up with publications, newsletters and insider news.

Through face-to-face networking you can make deep working relationships, true friendships, and opportunities for expansion into other fields. Keep in mind that while those directly inside your field may be the obvious choice, you can also gain a lot of insight and opportunities from those in a variety of fields.

Think of these meetings as social outings, not work outings — after all, you are trying to make a career you enjoy so much you don’t want to be chanting, “Payday is Friday.” Right? Schedule one as often as you feel comfortable with it, then go enjoy yourself for an evening. When you work for you, it’s permissible to combine a bit of fun with your work. Just don’t forget to keep your ears open and ask a lot of good questions. [Time saved: depends on how many true contacts you make.]

Online resources
The explosion of digital media means that you can also get a wide range of field knowledge from online sources such as blogs, forums, Google Alerts, and some social sites. There are many well-respected people who keep blogs and spend time on forums. It may take some time to find the sites, but with some persistence, you can search for key terms in your field and come up with some quality sites. One way to do this is by using Google’s Alerts system to set up key words on issues that matter most to you. From there, you can find the Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ profiles of authors contributing in those fields. Social media sites are a great place make contact with these leaders and open a conversation.

The problem with this method is that it can also be a complete time suck if you aren’t careful. There are two ways to go about this: Timer + discipline or you can also use an online automator like Zapier or IFTTT. I, personally, use the timer method so I can eliminate chatter, but some people get distracted easily by all of the shiny. This is literally done thinking of a topic, then hitting up social media for no more than 5 minutes. This is for all the platforms that I use: G+, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. I capture the note in Evernote, then leave the sites. I’ll then read through the notes and work through them away from the social media sites so I’m not distracted.

Image from Time Management Ninja, a great site with thousands of tips for reclaiming your time.

Image from Time Management Ninja, a great site with thousands of tips for reclaiming your time.

However, I found that Eleanore Strong‘s method of using an IFTTT recipe for social media is interesting. She sets up recipes to tell her when someone posts something in a particular Facebook group, or with a specific hashtag on Twitter, etc, and when that particular trigger happens, a line is added to a Google Document where she can quickly scan for relevant information once a day and organises it into tagged folders so she can categorise them as she needs. For example, if someone is saying they wish they could solve a problem with marketing, it would get put into one folder, while another post talking about the value of videos might go into another folder. From there, she can use that as sleuthing information for whatever she needs. [Time saved: Countless hours of needless surfing]

Cull ruthlessly and guard your time
Keep in mind that not all resources you’ll come across will be worth the time you spend on them. Cull the ones that don’t live up to par ruthlessly and without hesitation. Once you’ve identified the best sources for you, set aside some time every day, or even every week. A good time may be a morning scan before beginning work, or you may want to set aside an entire morning a week to just check the news. You’ll be investing the most time upfront in finding the resources that are best for you, but after that, scanning for the most relevant, important news won’t take much time at all.